Monday, November 5, 2001

At least one-third of the federal emergency workers mobilized on September 11 reach retirement age in five years, and an anxious Uncle Sam wants you to consider a career replacing them.
From college students to retirees, the government is using patriotism to appeal to Americans to fill depleting ranks of federal doctors, firefighters and structural engineers, among others.
The worries predate September 11, stemming from concerns over an aging work force average age 45. The attacks made the government’s pleas more urgent.
“We need people who will rise to the occasion and respond to the need for public service NOW,” the top government hirer tells college students in a letter.
If anyone misses the point, there is a new address for ex-federal workers who want to come back on board:
“There is a recognition that this is a challenge not a crisis, a challenge and the agencies are developing a number of different strategies,” said Ellen Tunstall, assistant director for employment policy at the Office of Personnel Management.
One is the letter from OPM Director Kay Coles James sent to campus newspapers across the country. The blitz was prompted by thousands of inquiries from students, the government says.
Miss James casts her pitch in patriotic language that just weeks ago would have seemed as campus-friendly as a Tupperware party: “Our young people have realized there is no more important work no more NOBLE calling than the work of government.”
Miss James outlines the areas of need: FBI investigators, CIA agents, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic monitors; Food and Drug Administration staffers who keep the blood supply clean; Federal Reserve Board analysts who watch for attacks on the banking system; Environmental Protection Agency monitors who are assessing the cleanup in New York.
The appeals are not just geared to college students. The government is opening doors for ex-employees and waiving a requirement that returning workers surrender part of their pensions.
A lot of those who left were new mothers who wanted to stay at home, and the government was considering flexible schedules and other changes to lure them back, said Edmund Byrnes, speaking for the personnel office.
The Partnership for Public Service, which aims to improve federal hiring practices, recently published projections showing overall rates of attrition at the top seven agencies that are part of the government’s emergency response plan.
At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which fielded rescue workers in the hours after the attacks, 47 percent of staff reaches retirement age by November 2006.
The overall retirement eligibility rate at the Agriculture Department, which employs forest firefighters and deploys emergency food supplies to disaster-stricken areas, is 38 percent in the next five years.
The Defense Department, whose Army engineers evaluate damaged structures, has a rate of 41 percent.

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